Throwback Thursday: Best Ravens Offense in Team History

Jonathan Daniel

Throwback Thursday: Finding the best Ravens Offense in Team History

What would you say is the best Ravens offense in team history, just going off gut feeling?

I suspect there would be a wide range of opinion on this.

One thing I’ve always disliked about the NFL’s ranking method is that it uses just total yards to rank the teams as the year progresses. That’s always been a poor way to measure the best offense or defense. After all, points correlate better than yards. Red zone inefficient teams can pile up yards between the 20s but can’t convert into touchdowns. Which team would you rather be – the team that gains a ton of yards between the 20s and kicks field goals or the team scores touchdowns?

But sometimes points can be misleading too. For example, if you get to play the Raiders twice and the AFC South (like the 2013 Broncos), you should have more points scored than someone who plays Seattle twice and the AFC North, if all else were reasonably equal. Scoring 400-500 points is nice but context is important.

Football statistics people understood this and created their own metrics to get around this problem. Football Outsiders created DVOA for instance, to measure a team’s true (as closely as it can) level of performance relative to the competition. Not just a recitation of the box score and yardage gained.

While I could compile all the DVOA numbers for example (and I did), it has some drawbacks. Namely, that it only couches a teams performance relative to the competition in its year. For example, a 0% DVOA team is exactly league average. But two 0% teams from two different years might not be the same at all.

So, what if instead of using just yards gained, we use every offensive stat? Things like Rushing Yards per Attempt, Touchdown passes, Completion percentage, and so on. Then we could create a ranking based on all of them. Some (like points) correlate better to success than others (like Rushing Attempts) but they all play into an offense’s production and efficiency.

In theory, an offense that is good at in one category should be good in others. For example, if a team has lots of passing touchdowns, it should have low Passing Interceptions, high Total Passing Yardage, and probably a good Passing Yards per Attempt.

Here are the 28 stats evaluated from Pro Football Reference.

What I did was compile the stats for each of the Ravens’ 18 seasons in team history using Pro Football Reference’s database. I stuck them into Excel and then ran a few ranking methods on them to find out how our offenses stack up with each other.

We know what FO’s DVOA numbers say. They indicate that 1996 was our best offense by a large margin, followed by 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2011.

It turns out 1996 finished #1 out of all the 18 Ravens seasons in seven different stats: Total Yards, Yards per Play, Total 1st Downs, Passing Yards, Passing Touchdowns, Passing Yards/Attempt, and Passing 1st Downs.

I suddenly have this desire to get a Vinny Testaverde jersey.

But what I wanted to know was what the pure stats said. In other words, let’s count them all up, yards, points, touchdowns, all of them, regardless of what the other teams did, and find out which offense was best.

That meant I had to normalize each of the 28 stats so that the new value fell between zero and one. This is necessary to make every stat count equally (otherwise, yards would dominate touchdowns for example because of its sheer scale).

Once this was done, a median was taken for each season’s stat totals in all categories. The resulting numbers indicate which offense was best on pure statistical accomplishment, without respect to the other 31 teams. Here’s that table for each team against the other Ravens teams:

NORMALIZED STATS


MEDIAN RANK


MEDIAN


OFF DVOA


2009


1


0.71


12.8%


2012


2


0.71


3.0%


1996


3


0.70


22.8%


2011


4


0.67


2.9%


2010


5


0.57


5.4%


2008


6


0.53


-0.3%


1997


7


0.50


1.8%


2006


8


0.41


0.9%


2000


9


0.40


-8.1%


2001


10


0.38


-7.0%


2013


11


0.29


-21.7%


2002


12


0.28


-6.1%


2007


13


0.26


-13.3%


2005


14


0.24


-11.7%


1999


15


0.24


-13.6%


2003


16


0.17


-12.7%


2004


17


0.16


-2.1%


1998


18


0.13


-7.3%


This says 2009 just edges 2012 offensively, purely by the numbers. Not surprisingly, 2009 was a GREAT year by total DVOA for us. In fact, Baltimore was #1 in the league (ninth in offense, fourth in defense).

The Ravens had elite drive averages. It featured its best points per drive (1.99) by a mile. The team gained nearly 31 yards on average per drive, a full 1.6 yard above the second place offense (2012). The 2009 offense kicked ass basically.

You may remember some awesome games offensively from that year. How about Joe Flacco leading the team back from a huge deficit against Minnesota only to lose to a shanked field goal 33-31? How about the absolute domination of the Lions (48-3) and Bears (31-7)? How about Ray Rice’s breakout year leading the league in Yards from Scrimmage?

Unfortunately, Flacco got injured late in the year. He barely threw any passes in the humiliating blowout of the Patriots in the playoffs before putting on a poor game against top-seeded Indianapolis. 2009 really was a very promising year until that happened. It didn’t help that the Colts playoff game was probably our worst of the season.

2012 was the most points we’ve ever scored. It was also a year with our lowest turnovers (just 10 INTs by Flacco).

It was not our most efficient offense, or the best in the league (that would be 1996), but purely on production 2012 was great.

We needed every last one of those points because 2012 was a very poor defensive year in the regular season.

So there you have it. Based on what metric YOU prefer, you have your choice of offenses. For my money, 2012 has the slight edge on 2009 because it carried a lackluster defense en route to a Super Bowl whereas the 2009 offense benefitted from a top-4 defense before fizzling out in the playoffs.

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